What's This?Phil Lord and Chris Miller at Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2016.
Image: Nils Jorgensen
As we absorb the shocking news that the Han Solo spinoff has just lost directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, some obvious questions have started to come up.
Namely: Just what in the hell happened? And what happens now?
The official reason cited by both parties (Lucasfilm and Lord & Miller) was "creative differences" – everyone's favorite vague excuse after "scheduling conflicts."
But parting ways in development or pre-production is one thing. That happens all the time. It's practically unheard of for such a dramatic exit to occur five months into shooting, with only weeks to go. As my colleague Chris Taylor put it, "whatever 'creative differences' Lord and Miller had with Lucasfilm must have been the size of Starkiller base."
While neither side is saying more on the record right now, the entertainment press has started picking up reports of a production that was troubled from the get-go. It's worth keeping in mind that most of these reports are sourced from anonymous insiders – but also that they seem to be someone's side of the story, even if they don't paint a complete picture.
Lord, Miller, and their cast pose for a promotional photo announcing the start of production on the Han Solo movie.
Image: Jonathan Olley
What went wrong with Han Solo?
Basically, it sounds like things were off from the get-go. Lord and Miller could not get on the same page with the people running Star Wars – specifically, producer Kathleen Kennedy (who's also president of Lucasfilm) and co-writer / executive producer Lawrence Kasdan (whose relationship with Star Wars dates back to The Empire Strikes Back).
According to Variety, Lord and Miller "balked" at Kennedy's tight control over the set, and "clashed" with Kasdan. Meanwhile, Kennedy didn't like their shooting style, or the way they were handling their cast and crew.
The Hollywood Reporter adds that Kasdan, who co-wrote the script with his son Joe Kasdan, did not approve of Lord and Miller's looser, more comedic, more improvisational approach. Tone was a big part of that divide, reports Mike Sampson:
A THR source claimed the two sides couldn't even agree on what kind of character Han Solo was. "People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish," they said. (You can probably guess which side this person falls on.)
Variety and THR both say Lord and Miller were fired, while Sampson tells a more complicated story:
The "RO" that Sampson is referring to is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In that instance, Lucasfilm reportedly took the film away from director Gareth Edwards and brought in Tony Gilroy to significantly rework the film (including overseeing reshoots).
Yeah, we don't know either.
What happens to Han Solo now?
In their statement announcing Lord and Miller's exit, Lucasfilm insisted that the Han Solo movie would not budge from its planned May 25, 2018 release date. That means the studio will have to move fast to get the film back on track.
To that end, THR reports, Lucasfilm already has its eye on a replacement although it isn't ready to name names yet. Ron Howard is rumored to be in the mix, as is Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger). Also being floated as a possibility is Kasdan himself, whose directing credits include The Big Chill and Silverado. One person not in contention? Gilroy, whose spokesperson has denied his involvement.
Already, that list of rumored names is telling. Lord and Miller are known for their upbeat, irreverent films, as previously seen in smashes like The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street. Howard and Johnston, whatever their other strengths and weaknesses, are nothing like that. Their films tend to feel more serious and reined-in.
Worth noting here, too, is that directing the Han Solo spinoff could end up being kind of a thankless job. Not only will that filmmaker have to hit the ground running with someone else's footage, they could wind up in a situation where they shoulder the blame for anything that goes wrong, while fans praise Lord and Miller for anything that goes right.
In any case, once Lucasfilm locks down a new director, that person will spend the next several weeks reviewing and re-editing Lord and Miller's work so far. Production is expected to shut down for several weeks while the filmmakers regroup. Variety offers that "several" additional weeks of reshoots have been scheduled for later this summer, to accommodate whatever changes need to be made.
Still unclear is whether Lord and Miller will be credited on the movie. There are all sorts of guild rules and legalities that determine who gets credited and how, and the Han Solo situation is irregular, to say the least. In any case, a new director announcement is expected to arrive shortly.
Kathleen Kennedy and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards at Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2016.
Image: Nils Jorgensen
What does this mean for Star Wars as a whole?
At this point, all we Star Wars fans can do is wait and hope for the best. Maybe Lucasfilm will pull it off and give us the Han Solo film they wanted and that we didn't know we wanted. Or maybe they won't. Maybe it'll be a disaster. Whatever happens, though, a lot of the damage is already done. This is a bad look for Lucasfilm.
Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they've already fired one director off of a Star Wars project (Fantastic Four director Josh Trank), and had to wrest creative control from another (the aforementioned Edwards). It's hard not to wonder just what is going on over there that Star Wars directors seem as likely to be fired or sidelined as they do to actually complete the projects they set out to make.
It also raises the question of what, exactly, Lucasfilm wants out of its spinoffs. When the A Star Wars Story movies were first announced, they seemed like an opportunity for the franchise to go a little wild, indulging in one-off tales or experimenting with different styles or tones. And Rogue One seemed like a promising execution of that idea: it was a gritty war drama featuring unfamiliar characters that nevertheless felt like it was part of the Star Wars universe.
Rogue One is the only Star Wars spinoff released so far.
Image: Jonathan Olley
With Lord and Miller at the helm, the Han Solo spinoff looked like it could carry on that torch by bringing a lighter, funnier sensibility to the Star Wars galaxy. Now Lucasfilm's clamping down suggests that they want even the A Star Wars Story films to feel more in line with the tone and vibe of the other movies.
And while that sucks for the version of the Han Solo movie that Lord and Miller wanted to make, it makes perfect sense for the franchise as a whole. Because, put simply, what makes a franchise great and what makes a movie great are two different things.
As I've written before, franchises work best when they're consistent and cohesive, and that means a certain level of sameness is built into the model. The films don't all have to be alike, but they have to be alike enough so that they feel like they all fit together, and so that audiences know generally what to expect.
Individual films, though, thrive on singular visions. The best ones surprise us with how bold or ambitious or different they are, how unlike anything we've ever seen before. It's certainly possible to make a good movie while shackled to a bigger franchise's overruling creative vision, but it's a heck of a lot harder to make a great one.
Maybe Star Wars will thread that needle someday. Lord knows this franchise has broken molds and shattered expectations before. But as of right now, it's looking less and less like the Han Solo spinoff will be the installment to do so.